A Short Break in Picardy

To most British people, north-eastern France means the docks at Boulogne and Calais, vast beer and wine warehouses and the flat lands surrounding the Eurotunnel terminal. Yet less than an hour's drive away lies a land of rolling hills and neat floral villages.

We drove onto the shuttle train early in a September afternoon and crossed under the English Channel in the scheduled 35 minutes. We took the A16 autoroute south to the exit for Etaples and, from there, it was only a short drive to the village of Maresville and la Ferme-Auberge des Chartroux.

Chartroux 1
Chartroux 2

This working farm has four comfortable guest rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms and individually decorated and furnished to a high standard, plus two cosy dining rooms, one with an inglenook fireplace. There is also a resident's lounge with a pool table and an additional alcove seating area. The room we occupied is shown on the left.

Chartroux 3

The hosts at la Ferme-Auberge are Annick and Jean-Marie Delianne, a friendly couple who have reversed the normal roles of French petits-restaurateurs. Madame is chef de cuisine while Monsieur waits at table, assisted by their daughters Sophie and Maxime. Madame's specialities are lamb (raised on the farm), onion tart and chicken in cider. She also makes a wicked tarte tatin. Contact the Delianes by telephone on +33 3 21 86 70 68 or by fax on +33 3 21 86 70 38.

Chartroux 4

As well as sheep there were quails, ducks on the pond and paddocks with horses (including two mares nursing their foals) and a donkey. The farm is approached by a 100 metre drive, providing a safe play environment for children.


Chartroux 5

We arrived on a Thursday, one of their "closed" evenings. Madame recommended that we eat at l'Auberge du Bon Accueil in the neighbouring village of Attin and she was kind enough to telephone a table reservation for us. Having had a superb meal in elegant surroundings with attentive service, we add our recommendation to hers. Their telephone number is +33 3 21 06 04 21.

Auberge du Bon Accueil

Picnic

Next morning our first visit was to Etaples. It being a market day we mingled with the shoppers and feasted our eyes on the wide variety of local produce available. Had we been self-catering we could have dined like royalty on market produce alone but we had to be content with provisioning a roadside picnic lunch. To our surprise and pleasure, the area is a treasure-trove of artisanal specialities, most of them edible.


Replete with fromage, charcuterie and cidre, with Karen map-reading, we made our way to Le Boisle, a village renown for basket-making. Everything you could possibly want in basket-work, from a wine bottle cradle to wicker-work garden furniture, can be bought from the factory-outlet shop in the main street.


Le Boisle

From there we drove to the Abbey and Gardens of Valloires at Argoules. The abbey was founded in the 12th Century by Cistercian monks and is open to the public but, being short of time after visiting the gardens, we decided to leave an abbey visit to another occasion. The gardens, divided into 25 distinct areas, were created in 1989 and comprise over 4,000 species and varieties of shrubs from the northern hemisphere, particularly from the north of China. There is an excellent collection of roses (though most were well past their best at the time of viewing) and a retail plant nursery.


Valloires
Ferme St Christophe

On our way back to Maresville we couldn't resist paying a visit to la Ferme St. Christophe at Petit Chemin near Argoules, run by the Van Oost family, and buying some of their excellent home-made preserves of fish, meat and fowl. All are guaranteed to be free of additives and preservatives and may be kept for up to 3 years (if you've got the will-power).


Fromage Leviel

Our first visit on Saturday was to the specialist goat cheese-maker Mme. Eliane Leviel in Le Fond des Communes, near Montcavrel. In surroundings that can only be described as "rural", Mme. Leviel produces a range of goat cheeses, butter and patisserie from her own herd.


From goats we moved to ducks and Les Canards du Haut-Pays, run by M. et Mme. Dellerie at Maninghem-au-Mont. Here you can buy all manner of gourmet products, based on the farm's maize-fed ducks. We bought some foie gras, rillettes and cassoulet des cuisses de canard. Again, all are guaranteed free from chemicals and artificial preservatives.


Les Canards du Haut-Pays
Bouquets de Moisson

Our next visit took us to Clenleu where M. et Mme. Hervé Viellard run their craft shop, Bouquets de Moisson, based on corn-dressing. Corn dollies, sheaves and decorations fill the walls of their workshop and Monsieur put on a demonstration for our benefit.


Sire de Créquy

After a brief stop in Fruges to buy the speciality cheese Sire de Créquy we headed for the coast and the charming resort village of Sainte-Cécile. There we lunched at l'Esplanade, a bar-restaurant that provides good food at modest prices.

Sainte Cécile

Chocolats de Beussent

We took a post-prandial stroll on the smooth sandy beach and viewed Cap Gris Nez in the far distance before resuming our travels. Our next visit was to Les Chocolats de Beussent in the village of the same name. In a small factory this family firm produces high-quality hand-made chocolates with a 70% cocoa content. We were given a demonstration of l'art du chocolatier with delicious samples. In keeping with Oscar Wilde's dictum about being able to resist anything except temptation we bought a 500g selection box, choosing from around 40 varieties.


Perlé de Groseille 1

From Beussent we drove to La Maison du Perlé at Loison-sur-Créquoise. This excellent house produces a wide range of regional specialities, particularly perlé, the local sparkling apéritif, in redcurrant and raspberry flavours. These are made by la méthode ch... pardon, traditionelle. They also make cider, eau-de-vie de cidre, confitures, terrines et plats cuisinées, all flavoured with perlé.

Perlé de Groseille 2

Time was moving on and there was just enough for one more visit; to Therry Apiculture at Bouin Plumoison. This enterprise specialises in all aspects of bee-keeping and bee products. As well as honey there is hydromel (mead), honeycomb, royal jelly, candles and all manner of confectionery, cosmetics and related produce. They even have a honey flavoured beer, produced for them by the excellent Ch'ti brewery.

Therry

After breakfast on Sunday morning we bade farewell to la Ferme-Auberge des Chartroux and the Delianes and made our way back towards the Eurotunnel terminal, this time across country with Karen again demonstrating her considerable map-reading skills. We'd normally end a stay in France with a hypermarket raid but they are not normally open on Sundays. However, we found a small town supermarket and stocked up with the things we can't live without, such as pains au chocolat, mayonnaise de Dijon and other goodies.

La Thomé de Gamond

For lunch we chose Le Thomé de Gamond, a restaurant atop Mont d'Hubert at Escalles, close by Cap Blanc Nez. Madame Fréchou and her family welcomed us, though we had no reservation on the day for eating en famille, and seated us at a table with magnificent views of the surrounding countryside and the English Channel. After a superb meal we were pleasantly surprised to be presented with a bottle of wine to bring home. If you prefer to book your table, call them on +33 3 21 82 32 03 or fax on +33 3 21 82 32 61.

It's so easy to linger over a meal in France and this one was no exception. In doing so, we left ourselves short of time to do our duty-free shopping before our scheduled shuttle crossing but we easily managed to put it off to a later one.


Back on the British side of the Channel and out on the M20 we were brought back to reality. This road seems to have been under repair forever, having two long sections with lanes coned off and no-one working in sight! To make things worse there had been an accident at the end of one of these sections, creating a seven-mile tail-back. If only half the revenue raised in vehicle taxation found its way back to transport there would be a massive improvement in Britain's roads but this is as unlikely as finding hens' teeth. The poor long-suffering road-user will continue to be a milch-cow to fund politicians' pet schemes at the expense of the nation's transport infrastructure. OK, polemic over.


Thus ended a wonderful short break in a part of France that we'd always previously passed though at speed on our way somewhere else. In case the reader gets the wrong impression from this account, the region has far more to offer than just speciality food! There are plenty of other possibilities, such as walking, fishing and a wide variety of sports in the excellent municipal facilities.

It's such a pity that Blair's Britain has so little tradition of regional food specialities. Yes - I know they're out there but why should one have to look so hard for them? At a time when rural incomes are falling, gourmet food could offer a new source of income to the countryside. France seems to have achieved a balance between le supermarché and le petit commerçant; why can't we?

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